1 – Martialité: art, perfomance, and religion


What is the meaning of a ‘warrior pose’? How does yogic practice intersect with martial arts? Are the grand narratives of ‘martial arts studies’ and ‘yoga’ better supplanted with a focus on martialitéMartialités are somatic techniques and visceral symbols of physical prowess articulated in combat, trained in practice, restored in theatre and ritual behaviour, and represented in art, film, and literature. Manifested across the spectrum of embodied practices, from the local and esoteric to the transnational and commercial, martialités in movement, posture, and intention appear to be a fundamental social expression, from widespread, secularized modern postural yoga and tai chi, to vernacular martial arts, MMA, folk medicine, witchcraft, and assault sorcery – not to mention their role in ancient and modern warfare, the modern war machine, and the state. No matter how ‘secular’ the transformation of the body, and the development of the self or ‘spirit’, both are considered essential parameters in scholarly and popular conceptions of martial arts and yogic practice. Perhaps ‘spirit’ is an expression of joy, juxtaposed against the sad passions of death cults? Some martial arts seem wrapped up in negativity, given their raison d’être is fighting, conquest, warfare, domination, and overcoming the ‘enemy’ for social, economic, and political gains. The flip-side of martialités is the ‘noble warrior ethos’ to serve, protect, and develop the self and the community, and to connect with nature and the environment on a spiritual and material level.

  • Convenors: DS Farrer (Palau Community College) & Daniel Mroz (University of Ottawa)
  • Discussants: Jean-Marc de Grave (IRASIA, Aix-Marseille University/CNRS) & DS Farrer (Palau Community College)


* Due to technical issues, the video discussion of the panels 1, 2, and 8 have a strong echo. We apologies for the inconvenience. We are trying to fix it. Thank you for your understanding.


  • Daniel Mroz (Univesity of Ottawa) – Martiality and Transformation: Taolu as a Yoga of Space


Chinese martial movement can be seen and experienced as a Yoga of Space. To explain this, I’ll establish some parameters and consider the relative uses of studying the artefacts called Martial Arts and Yoga, and of embracing a wider range of cultural activities that use martial movement and exhibit embodied Martiality. I’ll define both the set and free partner martial movement practices in 19th and 20th century Chinese Martial Arts as physical enactments of self-consecration that are remarkably consistent across time, space and practitioners, expressing both explicit and tacit religiosity. Having established this perspective, I shall look closely and at length into the structure and phenomenology of the practice of tao4lu4 (套路), to demonstrate how Chinese martial movement are a Yoga of Space.

Bio & Contact

Director of Fine Arts Programs, Associate Professor, Department of Theatre, University of Ottawa.

Originally from Montréal, Canada, Daniel Mroz creates and directs original contemporary theatre. He is the director of the BFA in Acting and the MFA in Directing programs in the Department of Theatre of the University of Ottawa, where he teaches acting and directing in both English and French.  Daniel also works as an independent creator. Performances he has created and collaborated on have been performed at the national Canada Dance Festival, the national Évenement Zones Théâtrales, the regional Summerworks Festival (Toronto) and the Catskill International Festival of New Theatre in New York. He mentors emerging artists in their creative work. He collaborates across disciplines with contemporary dancers and musicians. The Dancing Word his book on how to use the Chinese martial arts in the creation of contemporary theatre is published by Brill (2011). Daniel has been a teacher in residence for the contemporary dance program at Fontys University of the Arts, in Tilburg, the Netherlands, as well as a visiting artist at the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts in Beijing, and the National Theatre School of Canada in Montréal. He was recently named an adjunct professor for the Qingshan Taiji and Culture Research Institute of the Rizhao Polytechnical Institute, in Rizhao, Shandong, China. Daniel has been practicing Chinese martial arts and physical culture since 1993.  He began with Cailifoquan, Wu Taijiquan and Zhi Neng Qigong under Wong Sui Meing. He currently practices Chen Taijiquan under Chen Zhonghua and holds in instructor’s diploma as a Qigong teacher under Ken Cohen. He’s part of a group of scholars from around the world who founded an academic research area named Martial Arts Studies. In the 1990s Daniel apprenticed with a Canadian theatre director named Richard Fowler and his company, Primus Theatre. Daniel holds a practical, interdisciplinary arts Ph.D., the Doctorat en études et pratiques des arts from l’Université du Québec à Montréal, which he completed in 2005. His current artistic research investigates how Chinese martial movement training can allow creators in dance and theatre to experience direct perception of negative spaces and temporal intervals as a single material they can shape in their work.


Video presentation 

  • Adam Frank (University of Central Arkansas) – Still Life with Qi: Wuji, Standing Like a Stake, and the Aesthetic of the Warrior’s Energy Body


I take as my starting point for this essay, the following quote from Walter Benjamin: “Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence.”

The “warrior poses” I will discuss in this essay include any number of standing meditation postures referred to as zhan zhuang (桩), or “standing like a stake,” common to the so-called “internal” martial arts of taijiquan (太极拳) baguazhang (八卦掌), xingyiquan (形意拳), and yiquan (意拳). To practice zhan zhuang is first and foremost to disengage from the materiality of the world (wanwu 万物 “the 10,000 things”) and to somatically immerse oneself in a state of wuji (无极, here, “beforeness”) – before movement, before the thought of movement, before temporal awareness. Specific to the notion of martialité, the practice implies developing the internal strength of a tree or a post buried in the ground in order to effortlessly fajin (发劲), or “issue energy,” and construct an energy body capable of absorbing blows (blows from another person or the metaphorical blows of old age and disease). I will specifically focus on the practice of zhan zhuang in public spaces. As they stand next to trees, rocks, and other natural objects in public parks, how do practitioners of zhan zhuang experience internal transformation and how do these internal transformations in turn change their perception of the external environment? (That is, what is being transformed? The internal body? The external world? Both?) As purveyors of reproducible public sculpture, what boundaries of social, temporal, aesthetic, and embodied space do zhan zhuang practitioners demarcate? Under the weight of a pervasive Party ideology of “Marxist Neoliberalism,” how do practitioners balance elements of Daoist sorcery and magic historically and socially embedded in zhan zhuang with resistance to and compliance with State authority? To address these questions, I revisit previous ethnographic fieldwork in the United States and China, connecting Benjamin with anthropologist Tim Ingold’s discussion of enskillment, Herman Roodenburg’s revisitation of Bourdieu in terms of embodiment and authenticity, and philosopher Li Zehou’s discussion of the Daoist aesthetic.

Key terms:  zhan zhuang, standing meditation, aesthetics, Qi, wuji

Bio & Contact

A native of Tucson, Arizona, in the United States, Adam Frank is Professor of Anthropology and Performance Studies in the Norbert O. Schedler Honors College of the University of Central Arkansas, where he also teaches in the PhD program in Leadership and, as a taijiquan instructor, in the undergraduate theatre program. Originally trained as an actor, Frank worked in theatre and film for ten years in Hong Kong and the United States before returning to school for an MA in International Affairs (American University, 1996) and PhD in Anthropology (University of Texas at Austin, 2003). He continues to work as a theatre artist and is the founding artistic director of Ozark Living Newspaper Theatre, a company that addresses social justice issues through puppetry, mask, and improvisation. The company also runs an Augusto Boal-based program for at-risk youth involved in the juvenile justice system.  Frank is the author of Taijiquan and the Search for the Little Old Chinese Man:  Understanding Identity through Martial Arts (Palgrave, 2006), as well as numerous articles on martial arts that have appeared in such journals as Education About Asia, The Journal of Daoist Studies, Martial Arts Studies, and The Journal of Media and Communication. Frank was a keynote speaker at the 2016 Martial Arts Studies Conference in Cardiff and has been invited to speak on the anthropology of martial arts at Oxford, the University of Geneva, and Trinity University in San Antonio. He is a past  President of the Southwest Conference on Asian Studies (SWCAS) and was a member of the Association for Asian Studies Council on Conferences for three years. As a martial artist, Frank has practiced taijiquan for over forty years, including five years of study in Hong Kong and Shanghai, specializing in the Wu Jianquan style. His primary teacher is the Shanghai-based Wu stylist Shen Tiegen. Frank continues to practice and teach through the Arkansas Tai Chi Association in Conway.


Video presentation 

  • Ricardo K.S Mak (Hong Kong Baptist University) – The Invention of Spirituality in Martial Arts in Late-Nineteenth Century China


It is widely believed that Chinese martial arts have developed into “systems that blend the physical components of combat with strategy, philosophy, traditions…” in the ancient times. Detailed study of historical sources, however, may show another picture. While it is true thatancient sages such as Confucius (ca. 551–479 BC) emphasized individuals’ spiritual self-betterment through martial arts, there seems to be little interactions between China’s fighting art and physical culture, and spiritual and educational ideals before the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). We see therefore on the one side the development of practical skills sustained by the military and a range of professions such as escorts, bodyguards and mercenaries in the “economy of violence,” and on the other side a small number of literati maintaining the achievement of ideal personalities through the balanced growth in morality, sociality, intellectuality and physical strength. It was as late as in the late nineteenth century that martial arts emerged as tools of spiritual cultivation and character building in face of rapid advancement of military technology. Concepts such as dao (way or the natural order of the universe), qi (energy) and ti (human body) were integrated for the first time into Chinese martial arts, particularly the so-called neijia quan (internal styles of Chinese martial arts) to create a unique synthesis of physical, therapeutic, philosophical and educational goals. Focusing on the works of three leading scholar-martial artists in this time, namely Chen Xin (1849-1929), Sun Lutang (1860-1933) and Xue Dian (1887-1953), this paper highlights how Chinese martial arts were seen as a means to achieve spiritual elevation and self-fulfillment when Western material civilization penetrated China. It proceeds to explain if such a turn toward inner nobility of spirit shows the decline or a new development of the Chinese martial arts traditions.

Key words: Spirituality Ideal Personalities Internal Styles of Chinese Martial Arts Modern China Western Material Civilization.

Bio & Contact

Prof. Ricardo K. S. Mak is Director of Public Examinations of the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority and Adjunct Professor of History of the Hong Kong Baptist University, where he served as Professor of History, Head of Department of History and Director of Advanced Institute for Contemporary China Studies. Specializing in modern historical methods and theories, Sino-German relations, modern Chinese intellectual history and the Chinese martial arts traditions, he has published a dozen monographs and edited volumes and over fifty articles and reviews on related topics. His recent work Chinese Martial Arts in Hong Kong (Zhige weiwu: zhonghua wushu zai xiangjiang 止戈為武:中華武術在香江) (Hong Kong: Commercial Publishing Co. Ltd., 2016) focuses on the development of martial arts in twentieth century Hong Kong.


Video presentation